On Monday I described how the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a U.S. government agency, gave a grant of $1.1 million to the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) for studying the religious implications of finding extraterrestrial life. The other partner who contributed money for this initiative is, of course, the John Templeton Foundation.
The theology aspect is prominent; as the CTI’s announcement noted:
Announcing the NASA grant, CTI’s director William Storrar said, “The aim of this inquiry is to foster theology’s dialogue with astrobiology on its societal implications, enriched by the contribution of scholars in the humanities and social sciences. We are grateful to the NASA Astrobiology Program for making this pioneering conversation possible.”
I considered this not only an unconscionable and ludicrous waste of money, but also a potential violation of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from advancing religion. When the First Amendment alarm bell goes off, my actions are automatic: I call the matter to the attention of the estimable Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which can judge if there’s a real problem.
In this case there seems to be. I have heard now from Andrew Seidel, one of the FFRF’s constitutional lawyers, who saw a problem and wrote the following letter to the director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute and Mary Voytek, a senior scientist at that institute—the agency that gave 5% of their yearly budget to theologians. The letter he sent is below (click to enlarge), or I can send you the pdf if you email me. Feel free to disseminate it; it’s now a public document.
The letter is unusually strong, I think, emphasizing the inability of theology to know anything or resolve any questions, and states clearly the Constitutional law ruling that the government cannot become engaged in matters of theology: “the government cannot fund religion’s pursuit of theological doctrines.” It’s an interesting letter, calling for NASA to take the money back and use it for less wasteful projects. I will of course keep readers informed.
Note also that the FFRF has submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out the details of how the grant was given.
I’m pleased to have contributed to the letter a bit about the relationship of science to religion, and perhaps that will be enough to earn me the Discovery Institute’s “Censor of the Year” award, something I dearly want to receive for the second time.
Anyway, congrats to the FFRF, the Official Website Secular Organization™, for being an attentive watchdog as religion tries to creep into our government. (You can join here for only $40 per year, which comes with a great monthly newpaper.) And shame on you, John Templeton Foundation, for wasting money in this way.